Supreme Court Takes On Gay Marriage

Gay rights supporters waited outside the Supreme Court today, in anticipation of the decision to rule on same-sex-marriage cases. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Supreme Court Takes On Gay Marriage

Will courts ride wave of support following November's election results?

Friday afternoon the Supreme Court announced that they will take on same sex marriage by weighing in on two cases that challenged the constitutionality of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

One of the cases the justices elected to oversee, Hollingsworth v. Perry, was a decision by the California 9th Circuit Court that challenged the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8.

The case deals specifically with the right of same-sex couples to marry. Had the court elected not to hear the case, it would have left the lower court's ruling intact, allowing same-sex marriages to resume in California. However, according to the New York Times, the case has sweeping potential to "establish a right to same-sex marriage, effectively striking down the bans on such marriages in 39 states."

The second case the Supreme Court will rule on is challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In Windsor v. United States, the plaintiff was not able to claim an estate tax marital deduction after her spouse's death. The ruling specifically challenged Section 3 of the law which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman for purposes of more than 1,000 federal laws and programs.

Activists responded to Friday's announcement with cautious optimism. Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, released a statement following the news:

By agreeing to hear a case against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the Court can now move swiftly to affirm what 10 federal rulings have already said: DOMA's 'gay exception' to how the federal government treats married couples violates the Constitution and must fall. When it comes to the whole federal safety net that accompanies marriage - access to Social Security survivorship, health coverage, family leave, fair tax treatment, family immigration, and over 1000 other protections and responsibilities -- couples who are legally married in the states should be treated by the federal government as what they are: married.

Additionally, gay and lesbian couples in California - and indeed, all over the country - now look to the Supreme Court to affirm that the Constitution does not permit states to strip something as important as the freedom to marry away from one group of Americans.

The court's intervention comes just one month after residents of three states--Maine, Maryland and Washington--voted to approve gay marriages, bringing the total to nine states having legalized same-sex marriages.

But the According to the SCOTUS Blog, the court will also decide whether parties have "standing" to bring either same sex marriage case, allowing the a potential 'way out,' writes the Los Angeles Times.

Arguments are expected to be heard around Mar 25-27 with decision around June 27.

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